Work on finding cure for MS begins with $1 million donation
By Emily Ford
KANNAPOLIS ó Briana Landis wants to help find a cure for the disease that sometimes takes her vision in one eye for weeks at a time.
But the 11-year-old Kannapolis Intermediate School student who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis seven years ago might need to choose a different disease to tackle.
“I think there’s going to be a cure before I grow up,” she said.
Briana and dozens of other MS sufferers listened Thursday as scientists and philanthropists at the N.C. Research Campus announced a new effort to find a cure for the chronic disease that attacks the central nervous system.
Charlotte theater mogul Herman Stone gave $1 million to help fund MS research at the biotechnology hub in downtown Kannapolis. The effort is a partnership between Duke University, the Research Campus and the National MS Society.
Dr. Simon Gregory, a Duke scientist, already has a lab at the Research Campus. His team will collaborate with others around the globe to better understand the complex disease.
Stone’s lead gift launches a new fund drive to raise $5 million on the Web site www.MSgiants.org.
“When we first found out she had a disease that has no cure, it’s a parent’s worst nightmare,” said Kathi Landis, Briana’s mother.
Kathi and her husband, Brian Landis, believed that science would make progress toward curing the disease.
“But certainly not before she was a teenager, and certainly not here in Kannapolis,” Kathi Landis said.
Briana’s parents must give her an injection every other day, alternating between the belly, hip and backside. They shop for clothes that cover the bruises, and Briana is self-conscious about wearing a bathing suit.
Injections are the most effective way to control MS symptoms, which can range from numbness to vision loss and paralysis.
“Even if this lab could get the treatment in pill form, that would be huge,” Landis said.
Stone, who has two children with MS, convinced campus founder David Murdock to dedicate a space in the state-of-the-art Core Laboratory for MS research.
With the world-class equipment in the Core Lab, research that used to take years now can be done in months or even days.
Murdock pledged the Research Campus would “reach out to garner knowledge that exists anywhere in the world” to help cure the disease.
“Your community will become one of the moving forces in the world for the solving of various forms of medical problems,” he said to Kannapolis residents who had gathered for the event.
Murdock embraced Stone, who said he watched the Research Campus come up out of the ashes of the textile mill that closed in 2003.
“I had a dream that in this facility there could be a lab established for research to hopefully eradicate MS,” he said.
He encouraged people to donate even $5 or $10 to the effort, dubbed “On the Shoulders of Giants: The Carolina’s Campaign to Cure MS.”
Gregory, who worked on the Human Genome Project in Great Britain for 10 years, took the position with Duke to study disease.
“Patients yearn for news about finding a cure,” he said.
He cautioned that research will take years and many collaborators.
“We’re only going to take little steps,” he said.
But MS sufferers and their families have reason to hope for a cure, he said.
Dr. Mary Hughes, medical director of the Augusta MC Center and Rehabilitation Services, said more than 400,000 Americans suffer from the disease.
“For people living with MS, the North Carolina Research Campus has become an epicenter of hope,” Hughes said.
Rockwell resident Christine Scotton has lived with MS for seven years.
“I’ve been praying for this for so long,” she said after the announcement.
Scotton attended the event with six other Rowan County residents who have MS and exercise together at the J.F. Hurley YMCA. She organized the upcoming MS Walk on May 2.
The disease forced Scotton, 58, to quit her job at a hospital in Rhode Island and move closer to family.
“I believe they might find a cure in my lifetime,” she said.
Gregory and his team are developing methods to identify the genes responsible for complex disorders like MS. Their current research focuses on turning off one of the culprit genes.
“The discoveries he and his colleagues have already made have been heralded as the most significant advances in the field of MS genetics in the last 20 years,” the National MS Society said.
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